Throughout New Jersey, thousands of people remain without power after Hurricane Sandy ripped through the Garden State more than a week ago. When people don’t have power, they turn to people who do have power — political power that is. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke at length with Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40) about the ongoing power outages across the state as well as the gas crisis resulting from the lack of power at service stations.
His phone is ringing off the hook, says Rumana. While most people can understand that Sandy caused the biggest natural disaster in the state’s history, he said residents who are able to call are primarily upset about the lack of information about getting power back.
“If I have to take all the calls and bundle them up … the thing we really hear is ‘when is my power going to come back on, give me the information so I can judge how much I have to stretch the gas and the generator out, should I move out for a little while,’ those are the kind of things we’re hearing,” said Rumana.
Along with Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13), Rumana is working on legislation to implement a program that would have service stations install back-up generators so that they could continue to pump gas when there is a widespread power outage.
Sal Risalvato, Exec. Director of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience, Automotive Association, is not a big supporter of the proposal. “Fix the supply chain first,” said Risalvato. “Why spend $8,000 for a generator if [gas distribution centers] can’t get supplies to our stations?”
Rumana said he spoke with Risalvato and is sympathetic to the fact that the cost of generators may be too burdensome for gas stations, many of which are small businesses.
“We don’t want to overtax them in terms of mandating something’s that’s going to be very costly. So we’re gonna have to try to find the right balance here about what would be the right fit of the generator.”
According to Rumana, the frequency of weather-related events in recent years warrants a closer look at putting a system in place to avoid a similar situation from happening again.
“I represent a big part of the Passaic River Basin in the 40th district and we know we’re very sensitive to weather events and we’re seeing more and more of these type of events,” Rumana said. “When you have those events, you’re going to have power outages. iI you have power outages, all of a sudden if you can’t get fuel for our cars and equally as important, or even more important, fuel for the generator.”
The current crisis brings back memories of waiting on gas lines in the 1970s, said Rumana.
“[I] vividly remember sitting in line with my folks in their car trying to get gas back in the early 70s. To see it happen right now — yeah this may be a little bit of a on-time occurrence or, maybe not, who knows? The fact is if we can find a way to make it affordable to accomplish, what’s the downside? Then at least it’s in place so you never at least face this part of the problem where you can access that fuel that’s in those tanks that sat there day after day.”
Asked to grade the performance of the utilities, Gov. Chris Christie said last week that it was too soon to tell and he would give them an “incomplete.” Rumana joined the governor in that assessment.
“I think that some of the companies have done a better job than others. We’ve got major problems with … I don’t want to call them out right now on this program, but we’ve had a lot of problems with some of our district in the Bergen County area and even right here in Passaic County, Morris County areas that are served by another company. We’re having an awful lot of trouble.”